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Skip to 0 minutes and 13 secondsSo we've already explored the idea about the basic structure of Hadrian's Wall, the idea of milecastles every Roman mile, with two turrets between them. But here at Peel Gap, we have a different configuration. This is the turret that wasn't supposed to be here. And we can actually see that it's added to the Wall later. And one of the things that's quite striking about it, is its location. This is on Roman wall mile 39. There is a turret 'A', 39A, up on the high ground, and another 39B further along to the west. Why therefore, do we have this turret here? Well, one point we might note is this is one of the longer Roman wall miles. It's actually a long mile.

Skip to 1 minute and 4 secondsAnd we can see that the gap between those two turrets is at 200 metres longer than the standard. But the other possible explanation is that the ground itself is very significant here. This area is dead ground. And visibility between those turrets wouldn't necessarily include being able to cover this particular space. So is this turret actually being positioned as part of keeping an observation system working? It's interesting to think about the archaeology of this turret. It is actually used in much the same way as other turrets on the wall. We have a sequence of hearths within, indicating that it's being used repeatedly. But we also have a ballista bolt from this site, suggesting that it also housed an artillery piece.

Skip to 1 minute and 56 secondsSo we can see this in several different ways depending on whether we view the Wall as a top-down system that needs adaptation to facilitate regular patrolling rosters or whether there's actually a very close adaptation of the structure to allow for better control of the ground.

Minding the gap? What were turrets for?

Why did the frontier need turrets?

In the original plans for Hadrian’s frontier there were fortlets located every Roman mile, not just along the curtain wall, but also down the Cumbrian coast – why were these not enough? We can see that the original plan also allowed for two turrets or towers between each pair of milecastles, but what was their role: observation to the front, signalling to the rear or a combination of both?

In 1987, while excavating a section of wall at Peel Gap, Jim Crow made a surprise discovery, another turret. The Peel Gap turret was an addition to a stretch of wall spanning a Roman mile (wall mile 39) that already had two turrets. Why was it deemed necessary to add a third? In this video we visit Peel Gap to see what this discovery has to tell us about the role of turrets and the Romans’ reading of the landscape.

This article is based on material in Crow, J. G. 1991 ‘A review of current research on the turrets and curtain of Hadrian’s Wall’, Britannia 22 51-63, published by the Society for the Promotion of Roman Studies. N.B. this article is not easily available outside of academic libraries.

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Hadrian's Wall: Life on the Roman Frontier

Newcastle University

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